Thursday, December 1, 2016

Speech by Health Minister, Michale MALABAG, to mark WORLD AIDS DAY 2016

December 01st every year is World AIDS Day and for Papua New Guinea (PNG) this is a very important day on our Health Calender. World AIDS reminds us of the incurable disease that has costs millions of lives throughout the world. We should be wary at all times of the disease and also let us give support to those who are living with HIV/AIDS so that they too can live a positive life.
We dedicate this day to commemorate those who have passed on and to raise awareness about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). We also want to reflect on what we have achieved with regard to the national and global response to HIV.

HIV was first diagnosed in PNG back in 1987 and the threat posed by this epidemic remains real and one that we must continue to take seriously. We have made significant inroads in terms of our response but many challenges persist and gains are still fragile. Globally, the HIV epidemic continues to remain as one of the world’s most serious health, development and social challenges and PNG is no exception.
Early PNG projections estimated that the HIV prevalence among the adult population would reach more that 5% but improvements in the scale up of our HIV testing and surveillance over the last decade has demonstrated that HIV has had limited impact across the country as a whole with the current national prevalence rate of 0.8% reported in 2015.

Further recent evidence suggests that our epidemic is concentrated in key populations with HIV prevalence among this group estimated at more than 15 times than the national average. There is also recent evidence showing the prevalence in certain provinces like the National Capital District and Highlands Provinces going over the one percent mark. This means that the epidemic is generalised in those provinces.
It is for this reason, that combating HIV remains one of our Government’s foremost and important health and development priorities as a country, even though we face many competing social and health priorities. This has been reflected in all our development plans. In fact our National HIV Strategy 2011-2015 (which is now extended to 2017) is the envy of many in the region, coupled with our Government’s decision to fully fund AIDS treatment which is regarded as international best practice by many in the global AIDS response.

Responding to HIV and AIDS is one of the major priorities of our Government and is reflected in all major policy documents. Therefore, our Government remains committed to addressing the HIV epidemic in an integrated manner. The Government has increased the overall allocation and spending on health sector to address many of the challenges faced by health system-infrastructure, human resources, aging workforce and medical supplies. These investments will no doubt improve the ability of our health system to deliver better care including HIV services across the country.
Government’s decision to fully fund antiretroviral drugs (ART) since 2010, which is regarded as global best practice, has helped reduce ART stock out and will ensure a more sustainable supply of the drugs in the future. ART is free of charge for all people living with HIV in PNG.
This year’s World AIDS Day theme is all about prevention. This is because our prevention efforts remain fragmented resulting in increases in new cases of HIV for some populations and geographic regions in the country. We know that HIV and (Sexually Transmitted Infections) STIs spread where there is money, where there is poverty and where there is violence against women and this should be the targeted areas for prevention.

Basically, all of us have a responsibility to take all steps necessary within our means to prevent the spread of HIV and to reduce its impact. This means everyone must know about HIV and how to prevent it, the importance of getting ART drugs if one is tested positive, the promotion of gender equality to reduce women’s additional vulnerability to HIV and AIDS and of course stigma and discrimination, promotion of human rights and access to justice.
I take this opportunity to thank our international donors and development partners who have helped us to fight the HIV epidemic, because without your help the PNG HIV response would not have come this far. Who knows the impact could have been worse as predicted.
Finally, as a member of the United Nations, our country is resolute on its commitment in combating the HIV and AIDS epidemic as a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals on HIV/AIDS which has ended in 2015 and now the Sustainable Development Goals on ending HIV/AIDS by 2030, which calls for the UNAIDS fast-track approach to achieve a goal of 90-90-90 by 2020, which is really about the role of treatment as prevention.

As a member of the UN General Assembly, our Government is required to put in place measures to deliver and report on these globally agreed targets. Addressing HIV and AIDS is also a key component of the PNG-Australian Partnership for Development Agreement.
On this note, I would like to thank everyone for your continued support to my Ministry and as per our World AIDS Day theme state, I urge everyone to put your hands up for HIV prevention because HIV/AIDS just like health, is everyone’s business.